Friday, December 28, 2012

The End Of Another Year

I must admit that I am a little envious of my youngest son. Tomorrow I am driving him to the airport for a flight to Europe and a trip that will last nearly three weeks. His first stop is a week in London England, followed by ten days in Rome, Italy. While in Rome he will be visiting the Vatican and seeing the Pope. As most of you know, my son is a Deacon and will be ordained a priest in May. Going to Rome is basically a trip to “Corporate”. While he is there my wife and I will continue the tradition of spending New Year’s Eve at home with our granddaughter. She has spent every New Year’s Eve at our house as long as she’s been alive. We will start the day with a trip to the movies to see “The Hobbit”. I feel certain she will wear the Gollum tee shirt that she got for Christmas. If you don’t know who Gollum is, it is too late to catch you up. The night of New Year’s Eve we will party by making pigs in a blanket and other high fat, high carb delights that have absolutely no nutritional value. We will try to stay awake long enough to watch the ball drop in Times Square but many years we don’t make it because we are all falling asleep. Eating bad food and staying up till midnight is about as wild as my life gets these days. Still, I would rather be with my granddaughter than with the thousands of people in Times Square or downtown Louisville. 2012 has been a good year and I look forward to 2013 as I begin my 62nd year of living. As soon as the holidays are behind us my wife will be on a “mission from God” to prepare for my son’s ordination. She will be a woman possessed. Pray for me.




Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Christmas Anti-Climax

I am back in the office after a few days of vacation.  Once again my family and I were blessed this Christmas. Although we had to make some adjustments this year in terms of scheduling, it all worked out fine. Today I am trying to maintain my Christmas joy but I always experience a bit of a Christmas anti-climax once Christmas Day has passed. I was talking to my friend Fr. Dennis yesterday and we discussed how Christmas Day is the beginning of the Christmas season in the liturgical life of the Church but it is often the last day of the season for many people in the secular world. Yes, I know we still have New Year’s Day to go but I don’t personally associate that day with Christmas. I did very well this Christmas which means that Santa must have turned a blind eye towards some of my behavior in 2012. I already have one big goal in 2013 and that is to get my first book published. That process has begun already but hopefully will pick up speed once the holidays are behind us. For now, though, I sit here feeling much gratitude for all the gifts I have received in 2012 whether they were material gifts, gifts of the heart, or just good things that came my way as I lived each day. As we get ready to embark on a new year, I hope all of your lives are blessed and filled with good things.






Friday, December 21, 2012

Magic And Believing

Last night I dreamed I had a one on one with the Dalai Lama. I was expecting to receive a word of wisdom from him. Instead I found myself giving him a foot massage. When I told my wife about my dream this morning, she replied, “At least he didn’t say BESURETODRINKYOUROVALTINE”!

I told this story a long time ago but many of you probably didn’t hear it and it bears repeating. When my granddaughter was three or four years old she picked up one of the Magi from my Christmas crib. She looked at me and said, “Paw Paw, is this the Burger King”? I think most of you probably remember the old Burger King commercials. They have since been discontinued because the Burger King was a little creepy. With a child in my family, Christmas still has magic. It’s always a little sad when children stop believing in magic. This reminds me of a great line from a mini-series that I watched many years ago about the days of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. At the end of the show the magician Merlin sadly says “There’s no more magic because the people no longer believe”. When the magic and the pixie dust disappear from our lives, the world gets a little darker. I can only take so much reality and I get tired of being an adult. I think that’s why I appreciate my granddaughter so much. Even if she can’t slow down or reverse the aging of my body, she keeps my spirit and heart young. I think that’s why children and grandparents get along so well. Chloe is a child growing into an adult. Grandparents are older people turning back into children. When grandchildren and grandparents are the same emotional age, all is bliss. I hope there is still magic and a little pixie dust in your lives. If not, go to the magic store and buy some. This time of year they're always on sale.



Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Christmas

As Christmas Day approaches my inner child gets more excited. Although I am confident I will receive some nice and thoughtful gifts, I find more joy in the happiness of others. My wife and I are generous with our children and granddaughter. I have the empty wallet to prove it. Although many people think I look like Santa Claus, my wife is the real Santa Claus in our family. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day used to be a lot busier for me. There were parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles to visit. Now my wife and I are the older generation. My mother is still alive so we go to her house on Christmas Eve, followed by a visit to a sister in law’s for my wife’s side of the family. Christmas Day, however, I get to stay home and my brood comes to my house. In years past I was very busy and a little stressed because I basically prepared the equivalent of the Frisch’s Breakfast Bar for my family. Since my youngest son is now a Deacon and must be present at Christmas masses in the parish where he is assigned, my family Christmas celebration and exchange of gifts will not happen until Christmas afternoon this year. This allows Santa and Mrs. Claus to sleep in a little and not be so rushed. Since we are having a Christmas dinner instead of breakfast, Mark’s Feed Store will be catering the meal and I will have no kitchen responsibilities. I am very happy about that. The best part of Christmas, however, is my granddaughter. She still believes in Santa and she will be wild with excitement. To be honest, she is not 100% sure I am not really Santa. A few years ago I went to her daycare center about this time of year dressed in a red hat and coat. I created a small riot among the children. Some thought it was very cool that Chloe’s Paw Paw was Santa Claus. Since I won’t see Chloe again until Christmas Day I have finally gotten a break from the Elf on a Shelf. I’ve exhausted myself moving that little guy around the house!




Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Can Dance!

video
I might be getting old but I can still dance and I've got the moves!  Check me out!

Family Stability

One of my children recently gave my wife and me a compliment. That in and of itself is an historical event. A few days ago my oldest son said “Mom, you and Dad are the only people I know who have stayed married and you’ve always been there for me no matter what”. This realization came to him because of family complications that often become evident around Christmas time and other holidays. In my own family we are having to make adjustments this year because of new people and new situations. There is no doubt that the definition of family has evolved over the years. However, I don’t think the evolution of what family means is the problem. I think the problem is the instability that many children and even some adults feel as relationships change, people come and go in our lives, and emotional adjustments must be made. I have not found marriage and family life to be a walk in the park by any means. I’m sure my wife would say the same. It’s been a lot of work. However, for the sake of my children and my granddaughter, I am happy that my wife and I have stuck together. We all need a safe harbor in our lives and I am glad my wife and I can be that for our sons and granddaughter. My parents and my wife’s parents were both married over 50 years. I appreciate the effort they made to do that and I hope my children appreciate the effort my wife and I have made. A sense of stability is part of feeling secure. I understand that some relationships need to end and I am not being judgmental or critical of others. I also understand that some relationships end that cause heartbreak. However, when you grow up and become an adult, relationships are not like going steady in high school. At some point one must choose wisely, make a commitment, be faithful, do the work, and hope for some good luck.








The Unfiltered Life

It is said that every time two people meet there are six people in the room.  For each person there is the person they think they are, the person the other person thinks they are, and the person they really are.  I was thinking about this after reading some thoughts on how to see life and reality unfiltered.  Let’s be honest.  Few of us see life as it really is.  Most of us see life and reality through a variety of filters.  These filters, much like the many layers of our personalities, have been formed throughout our lives by all the experiences we’ve had, the way we were raised, and, in many cases, by our education or lack of it.  It’s probably safe to say that few of us truly see things the same way.  In the work environment, for example, there are people who are very happy and content.  There are some people, however, who think they are in a concentration camp.  Some people are happy with everything while others are happy with nothing.  Our happiness is generally in direct proportion to our gratitude.  Some people are grateful just to wake up in the morning and realize they have been given another day of life.  Others people are never grateful for anything.  Why are some people happy and grateful while others are unhappy and feeling like nothing good ever happens to them?  Certainly attitude is a big factor.  Another factor, however, is how unfiltered your life is and how much you are able to see life realistically.     

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Tension Of Opposing Emotions

I spent the weekend feeling the tension of opposing emotions. Like most people I went home on Friday night feeling very sad about the senseless killings in Connecticut. I watched the news all nights and just horrible for all the children, their parents, and all the first responders who had to deal with the situation. The rest of the weekend was spent with my granddaughter and I was just so happy that she was alive and well and happy. I got up on Saturday morning and drove to her school and church where she celebrated her First Reconciliation. This is what Catholics call going to Confession. The next step for her is her First Communion. Saturday night we went to Brown Park by Baptist East hospital and watched through the Christmas lights that assembled. Afterwards we went to my parish church to see the living Nativity scene. I recommend the park and the Nativity scene especially if you have small children. Yesterday we went to the movies and saw “The Rise of the Guardians”. I recommend this children’s movie too. I love my granddaughter so much and I cannot imagine my life without her. The tragedy in Connecticut reminded me how fragile life can be and how quickly it can be taken away. It also reminded me of the importance of love and family and the great joy of having a peaceful life where such horrors as occurred in Connecticut do not visit us. If you have young children or grandchildren, hug them tight this Christmas and every day.




Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Three Gates

The Three Gates

The old Sufi taught that right speech had to pass through three gates. The first gate asked, “Is it true”?  The second gate asked, “Is it necessary”? The third gate asked, “Is it kind”? The old sheik taught him that it would be better to be silent than to utter words that had not passed through the three gates.

For those that do not know, Sufism is the mystical side of Islam. This teaching is very similar to the kind of teachings also uttered by the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early Christian era. I tend to think that many basic teachings such as this one can be found in all the major religions. This is a great teaching regardless of what religion or philosophy you follow. Who among us couldn’t do a better job of guarding one’s speech. I try to avoid complaining, gossip, and any kind of hurtful speech. I am human, however, so there are times I do all of these things. I strive to minimize complaining by focusing on gratitude. Workplace gossip is an easy trap to fall into. I think the best way to minimize workplace gossip is for leadership to be as transparent as possible and for everyone to always tell the truth. I am doing better with minimizing hurtful speech because age and the awareness of my own weaknesses has taught me to be more patient and tolerant of others. Even though I don’t always remain silent, I also believe it is better to be silent than to speak a lot. I can't remember who said it but I did read once that “one should not speak unless your words improve the silence”.







Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Death Of Ravi Shankar

I found out yesterday that the great Indian musician, Ravi Shankar, had passed away. He was in his early 90’s and considered by most as the world’s greatest master of the sitar. He was certainly the best known sitar player in the world. Ravi Shankar combined two of my greatest loves. He merged music with spirituality. He performed at the first great rock festival called the Monterey Pop Festival where he totally wowed all the blissed out hippies. He also played at the original Woodstock. In the late sixties he became friends with the Beatles and soon became a spiritual and musical guru to George Harrison. By the time of his death in 2001, Harrison had become a Hindu like Shankar. You can hear Ravi Shankar’s musical influence on the Beatle albums called “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver”. It was at the request of Ravi Shankar that George Harrison organized the first rock and roll benefit concert in 1971 called “The Concert for Bangladesh”. Every time a musician dies, I am sad. Too many have passed away in my lifetime. Fortunately I saw most of them before they left the planet. Unfortunately, I never saw Ravi Shankar. Music is one of life’s greatest gifts and musicians are my favorite artists. Imagine your life without music. Music has been a great friend and a great comfort to me in my life. When I am happy, it makes me happier. When I am sad, it consoles me. Thank you, Ravi, for enriching my life.








Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Quiet Mornings, Peaceful Evenings

As Christmas approaches and the mornings are dark and cold, I start my work days at home, sitting in silence, coffee mug in hand, looking at the twinkling lights on my Christmas tree, and focusing on my breathing. Whether it’s a work day or a holiday, I love the early morning. I schedule my time, especially on work days, so that I have approximately twenty minutes each morning that can be devoted to meditation. It gets my day off to a positive start and it helps me stay centered throughout my day. I am not one to get up at the last possible minute so that I have to rush getting ready, then drive like a maniac in order to get to work on time. Over my working career I’ve witnessed many people virtually running into the office, stressed out and frazzled, because they couldn’t or wouldn’t get out of bed a little earlier. I like to see the day coming and not be thrown into a day that started without me. I not only love mornings, I love evenings as well. I love the quietness of early morning and I like the feeling of crossing the threshold of my home after a good day at work. Occasionally I struggle with the whole middle part of the day but I always try to enjoy every minute of my life. There is no doubt that when one gets to the age I am you start to have a whole new appreciation for time. I am not in a panic about time but I am realistic enough to understand that I have more time behind me than I do in front of me. I urge you to make the effort to add quality to your time. Savor the moments and avoid the mad rush of always being late for something. Spend some time being with yourself and doing nothing. When you get ready in the mornings, don’t gulp your coffee. Feel the warmth of the mug in your hands. Notice the aroma. Enjoy the taste. Life is made up of moments. If you don’t pay attention, you will miss them and when you get to the end of your life, you’ll realize you missed your life too.




Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Visit With The Nuns

Yesterday was my mother’s 83rd birthday. She is pictured above.  Like a good son I called her and wished her well. She is the last of the parent’s for my wife and me. My mother is the only person in my family who is older than me. It was also the anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton. Merton was a monk and writer who lived in the same monastery as I did although we did not live there at the same time. I would list him as one of the primary influences in my life. Much of what I know about the contemplative life I learned from Merton’s writings.

Last Friday I took a day off from work and spent the day with my good friend, Fr. Dennis. Although he is retired, he still does priestly duties for parishes and religious communities when needed. One of his occasional activities is to say mass for the Sisters of Charity at Nazareth in Bardstown. Last week he was saying mass for them all week so I went with him on Friday. The Sisters of Charity recently celebrated their 200th anniversary as a religious community. They are a very impressive group of woman who are out there in the world doing real ministry with real people. In my opinion, religious women are usually more on the cutting edge of ministry than men. After mass Dennis and I had lunch with the nuns. They fed us well and the nun I sat with challenged me with some engaging conversation about the priesthood, the church, and politics. When I told her I worked for a healthcare company she immediately questioned me about healthcare reform. We also discussed modern day theologians. She was certainly one of the community’s intellectuals. I love to be around smart people. I also met another nun who told me about her attempt to make bourbon balls. She wasn’t happy with the finished product because she thought they weren’t strong enough. Her solution was to inject each one of them with additional bourbon using a hypodermic needle. Nuns can be very resourceful!



Monday, December 10, 2012

Introvert In An Extroverted World

I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that all things pass. The bad news is that all things pass. This morning I mourn the loss of my privacy. We’ve had another mass move within the office and I have been moved from a very private corner cubicle to one that has absolutely zero privacy. This may not seem like a big deal to most people, and it really isn’t a big deal in the great scheme of life, but I am an off the chart introvert. I crave privacy and solitude. It’s not that I have anything to hide. I am a person who generally keeps his nose to the grindstone throughout the workday. I just find the lack of privacy difficult to deal with and I strongly dislike being in the middle of a lot of activity and distractions. Being an introvert doesn’t make me special. There are lots of us in the office. We are the ones sitting at our desks while all the extroverts are out of their chairs seeking human interaction. This isn’t the first time I have needed to adapt to a move not of my choice. When I do have some control over such things I always choose a cubicle off the beaten path. When I do not have control, and that is most of the time, I hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I will adapt to this new change even if all I can do is turn up the volume on my iPod.







Thursday, December 06, 2012

Organized Chaos

This morning I was reading an article about geese flying south for the winter. When geese fly in a group they fly in what appears to be a V formation. I hope at some point in your life you have looked up at the sky and have witnessed this. The article said the flying formation is a more complicated than a simple V formation. Within the V formation, and around it, some geese are in different positions that could be considered organized chaos. All the geese, however, seem to know exactly what they are doing and the seeming chaos is not random. Scientists believe there is a high level of communication going on between the geese and there is an overall harmony and order that is happening. If you’ve ever seen this formation of geese flying overhead on an late fall or early winter morning, it is a thing of beauty. When there is order in the universe, and everything is working in harmony, there is always beauty. This is why so many people find solace in nature. This is why people flock to national parks and retreat houses in rural areas. People love beauty, harmony, and the order that creates them. It is soothing for the soul and it helps us to be centered and grounded. When life is wild and crazy and dis-ordered, it frays our nerves and destroys our harmony and inner peace. Let’s all trying to fly in formation today even if a few of us may appear to be in organized chaos.








Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Conflict

I strongly dislike conflict. I know it is part of life and sometimes serves a purpose but I still dislike it. I find it exhausting and it rarely brings out the best in me or others. I prefer cooperation, compromise, and peacemaking. Compromise is the end result of skillful negotiation. It represents a win-win for everyone involved. As President Obama once said to the Republican leaders of the Congress, “Compromise isn’t you getting everything you want and me getting nothing I want”. Compromise is a meeting in the middle. In today’s world the art of negotiation and compromise seems to be a lost art, especially in the world of politics. Conflict sucks the life right out of me. On the other hand, cooperation energizes me and motivates be to work harder. It improves my attitude and increases my desire to be a team player. When conflict is the result of one idea versus another, we should seek ways to combine the best of both ideas. Conflict often happens when people think dualistically. Conflict occurs when people think a solution must be either one way or another. Cooperation happens when people think in terms of both/and rather than either/or. I am not na├»ve to the fact that conflict is difficult to avoid and that compromise is not always easy. However, I would prefer to use my energy compromises than fighting. Blessed are the peacemakers and those who strive to bring people together. We are always better as individuals and as groups when we work together and support one another.









Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Life Is A Teacher

Regardless of what spiritual beliefs or philosophy guides your life we all have the same teacher and the teacher is life. No matter what we believe each of us has to deal with the life we have and the demands and challenges of our life. Life is the teacher and life is the test. When I was in the monastery there was a discipline of prayer. It was no easier for a monk to get out of bed for prayer than it is for an office worker to get out of bed for a day at the office. In the monastery we had night prayer called Vigils at 3:15 AM. In my young life as a parent I had night vigils for feedings and diaper changes. When I was a young man I complained about having to work. My father in law said, “Wait until you’ve been doing it for forty years”! Well, I have been doing it for forty years and I now understand what he was saying. Work has been a discipline and a teacher for me too. In addition, thirty eight years of marriage, thirty four years of parenthood, and eight years of grandparenthood have also been my teachers. As I once said, “Education gives you knowledge but life gives you wisdom”. Life is a great teacher and the experiences of life can fill us with wisdom. Our individual lives also challenge us in many ways to be faithful to our beliefs and personal philosophies. If you believe in love, kindness, and compassion, life will test you in many ways to determine how much you believe in them. Your life is not designed to annoy you. It is designed to shape you, mold you, teach you, make you stronger, and to fill you with wisdom as you grow older.








Monday, December 03, 2012

Purpose And Belonging

I had two experiences over the weekend that were related to well-being. The first experience was going to the movies with my wife and Chloe to see ‘Wreck-It, Ralph”. This was a cartoon about video game characters. Ralph was a character who was tired of his role as a bad guy and wanted to start being a good guy. The entire movie was layered with meaning but the basic message that I carried away is that we all have a purpose. We may not always understand it and may not even see it. Many of us search for meaning and purpose outside our roles or circumstances only to discover later we had it all along. This is was Ralph discovered on his personal journey.

My second experience related to well-being was a family reunion on Saturday night where I met a long lost cousin. She was born out of wedlock to one of my now deceased aunts at a time when such things were quite scandalous. She was put up for adoption and no one in my family knew of her existence. She was an only child to adoptive parents and they died many years ago. Like many such people she longed to know her roots so she began to search for them. She eventually found my family and has now been fully embraced. She is joyful to have gone from an only child who was orphaned to being a member of a large extended family. She has fit right in which says a lot about the power of DNA.

From “Wreck It, Ralph” I was reminded about the importance of a sense of purpose, and from my new cousin I was reminded about the importance of belonging. It was a very insightful weekend.







Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Long Night

Last night was a weird night. When I went to bed everything seemed normal. I slept for a few hours before nature’s call awakened me. I got out of my warm bed and walked to the bathroom. When I got back to my bed I was wide awake. I glanced at my clock and it was about 3:30 AM. I thought about my friends in the monastery who were up and assembled in their church reciting their nightly Psalms in a service called Vigils. Back in the day I was right there with them. I started thinking about other vigils in my life like midnight feedings and diaper changes with my children that I also relived with my granddaughter. I thought about death vigils with dying parents. I finally fell asleep and had some really bizarre dreams involving people who would never be a room together in real life. These dreams were not nightmares but still somewhat disturbing. I was happy when my alarm finally went off. There was an old police drama on television many years ago that began every episode with “There are a thousand stories in the naked city and this is one of them”. Last night seemed like one of those stories and today I feel like I am in a fog. Let’s hope for a quiet and peaceful day.








Blessings

As I walked out of a restaurant last night an elderly man sitting by the door looked at me with a kind smile and said, “My your life be filled with the blessings of Jesus Christ”. It was very heartfelt and spoken with great kindness. I thanked him and said that I wished the same for him. I’m not sure if I looked like a man who needed a blessing. It was the end of a stressful day at work and I was feeling a little depleted. There have been other occasions when I have had similar encounters. I must admit that they always give me pause to reflect. Was this really the blessing of a kind old man or was he an angel or even Jesus himself? Was this blessing a wakeup call for me? That’s very likely because I have frequently felt down and somewhat aimless lately. Was this blessing a reminder to me to be more mindful of the many blessings in my life that I sometimes take for granted? Was this blessing a reminder to get over myself and be more joyful? When was the last time I blessed anyone? When was the last time I spoke such words to a stranger or even someone close to me? I saw on the news a few nights ago that we are becoming an increasingly depressed country. One in five people are taking some kind of anti-depressant. That’s a little scary. I know there is a big difference between clinical depression and normal feelings of sadness. Too many of us, however, get to focused on our sadness and what is lacking in our life. It blinds us to the many blessings that most of us have. Today I bless all of you and wish you joy. I challenge you to pay this forward to everyone in your life and to those you encounter. You don’t necessarily have to shout it but spread joy around anyway you can.








Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Order In The Universe

I believe there is an order to the universe.  Everything in the natural world is on schedule, it maintains a balance, and when left alone, minimizes chaos.  In the natural world, the fly in the ointment is mankind.  Most scientists would agree the universe as we know it began in the chaos of the “Big Bang”.  Although born in chaos, the results of the Big Bang quickly began organizing themselves into the worlds, galaxies, and universes that we have now.  I generally dislike chaos.  When I am flung into a chaotic situation, the first thing I try to do is create order.  I believe that when there is order, balance, logic, and a certain kind of patience that allows things to flow naturally, everything is better.  The more you mess with order, the more likely you are to create chaos.  I realize that my point of view has a lot to do with my own personality.  One trait of my personality is that I am a perfectionist.  Perfectionists love order.  Disorder and chaos makes people like me crazy.  When perfectionism is taken to extreme it is called anal retention and occasionally I suffer from that trait as well.  More often than not, however, my perfectionism, and the perfectionism of others, creates positive results.  When there is disorder and chaos, results can be difficult to achieve.  In my experience, when you shoot from the hip, or work in a chaotic and disordered way, you frequently miss the target.         

Monday, November 26, 2012

Holiday Emotions

All of the Thanksgiving leftovers have been consumed, the Christmas trees are up, the presents are bought if not wrapped, the front of the house is decorated, the lights are on the bushes, and in the lobby of my building the Corporate Christmas tree stands tall. Tis the season to be jolly, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. The truth is that many people find the holidays a difficult and challenging time. While many people are “making merry”, others are sad or depressed. For many people the holidays stir up a lot of emotions and painful memories. Although I have never had a bad Christmas and I have a thousand reasons why I should be happy, I often feel depressed at this time of year. I am already looking forward to the nothingness of January although I generally like the holiday season. There is something in the air that doesn’t seem to be around the rest of the year. Little kids smile at me because they think I am Santa Claus. I usually get everything I want and some things I didn’t even know I wanted. I am very blessed in many ways. In spite of this, I often feel down in the dumps. I know I am not alone. Whatever your mindset, keep in mind that the Christmas season is a different experience for different people. Be sensitive to the feelings of others. I am a big fan of joy and I hope we all feel lots of joy over the coming weeks. If you don’t, however, you are not alone.








Friday, November 16, 2012

Thanksgiving

Like many people I am in amazement that it is already this time of year. I’ve always thought that once Halloween gets here the rest of the year is on fast forward. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. This is mainly because it is a simple holiday for most. The exception to this is the cooks. In my family the culinary responsibility has been assumed by my sister in law, Judy. Although she is a wonderful cook, for me Thanksgiving has never been about the food. I’m really not a great lover of turkey. I like Thanksgiving because it is a time when I can truly think about how blessed I am. The parts of our lives that seem imperfect or lacking can loom large in our minds. Too often we seem fixated by life’s struggles to the point that we don’t always notice life’s blessings. Having a national day of remembrance can be a wakeup call to count your blessings. The least among us has something for which to be thankful. Yesterday I shared some simple things for which I am grateful. There are also many large things that could be added to the list, things like family, friends, employment, health, and basic security. I am also thankful for everyone who reads these thoughts wherever in the world you are. May all of you be blessed this holiday and may your cups be overflowing!




Thursday, November 15, 2012

Simple Things

“I love 6:00 AM! I can’t wait to get out of bed”!

No one ever said this...

My wife bought us new sheets and an electric blanket for our bed. I must admit that I threw a little tantrum because she decided that we needed to put them on the bed at 11:00 PM at night. I was very tired and just wanted to go to bed with our old sheets and blanket. However, the next morning I realized that I’d had a great night of sleep. The new sheets and blanket reminded me of how much it’s the simple things in life that give us the most happiness. Although I tend to think too much I am basically a simple creature who is very content with simple things and a few creature comforts. It doesn’t take much to make me happy or to feel content. Here’s a few things I appreciate. I like a warm bed, a good night of sleep, my first cup of coffee in the morning, looking at the stars as I walk to the end of my driveway to retrieve my morning paper, my chair at home where I take wonderful naps, my music and book collection, my granddaughter’s smile, the laughter of co-workers, a hug from a friend, trips to the monastery, going out to lunch with my friends, a good day at work, a safe commute, crossing the threshold of my home at the end of a work day, a hot shower, a good meal, staring out the window, jamming to my favorite music and dancing like no one is watching, any quiet moment throughout my day, helping anyone I can with whatever is troubling them, writing and sharing my thoughts and having people tell me I wrote exactly what they needed to read that day. I could go on and on. What are the best things in your life?







Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Loving Kindness

This morning I was reading some thoughts about something called loving kindness. Loving kindness is something that we need to apply not only to ourselves but to everyone around us. Let’s be honest. We are all human beings and we all want the same basic things. We want to be loved and to feel loved. We want to be happy with our circumstances. We want to feel safe and secure. We want lives relatively free of worry and stress. We want to avoid suffering. If there is anyone among you who doesn’t want these things, I would love to hear from you with any explanation of why not. In order to have these things in our life, we need to practice loving kindness to ourselves and those around us. Beginning with the self, we need to love ourselves. I do not mean in a narcissistic way. Even if you are imperfect and flawed, and we all are, then you can love the person you are trying to be. Beyond this, if you are honest with yourself about your own shortcomings and struggles, you can practice loving kindness to others by being tolerant and patient with their shortcomings and struggles. We are as much one in our struggles as we are in our potential. Life will always be challenging and some days are more difficult than other days. None of us can really feel loved, happy, safe, secure, and stress free unless those around us feel the same. No man or woman is an island. We are all in this life together and we all want and need some loving kindness. If you are not practicing this already, today is a good day to start.








Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gossip

“I’ve come to the realization that almost nothing is any of my business”
-Br. Cassian, Monk of Gethsemani

Br. Cassian was a senior monk in the monastery where I lived as a young man. Much of his time there was spent as the Porter. The Porter is basically the guy that greets visitors and people making a retreat when they arrive at the monastery. I can’t remember the exact words from the Rule of St. Benedict but he writes that the Porter should be a senior monk who is discreet and not prone to gossip. Living in the monastery and working in a large office is not all that different. Both are full of people of varying personality types and needs. Monasteries and offices are full of gossip, half-truths, and pure speculation. As human beings we are all prone to be seduced by gossip. I have always tried to have the attitude that I shouldn’t believe anything I hear and only half of what I see. I think Br. Cassian hit the nail on the head. What if we all had his attitude that almost nothing is any of our business? What if we all minded our own business? What if we all refrained from meddling in the lives of others, whether they are our co-workers or family members? There are some antidotes to gossip. They are called truth and transparency. If you want people to stop gossiping put the truth out there and let everything be as open and transparent as possible. If there is going to be gossip, and there always will be as long as there are people, then let the gossip be based on the truth.







Monday, November 12, 2012

Bringing In The Tubs

This past weekend was the annual “Bringing in the Tubs” weekend. With the assistance of my granddaughter I empties the shed of all our Christmas decorations and put the tubs on my back porch. Chloe assisted me by keeping count of how many tubs I carried in. I also hired a full Gospel choir to stand in my backyard and sing “Bringing in the Tubs! Bringing in the Tubs”! It wasn’t all bad. I got some good exercise and this weekend was as beautiful as you could ever want. It also allowed me to be with my granddaughter who I love more than anything in world. At least one friend questioned me about decorating before Thanksgiving. Here’s the simple answer. Thanksgiving is early this year. The more complex answer is that my wife told me we were doing it this weekend. Our tree is not up yet but my house is starting to look a little like Disneyworld. We want to get everything down before next week because we’re on vacation and we don’t want to do any work while we are off. If you knew my wife you would know she is the female version of Clark Griswold. Even though I look a lot like Santa Claus, if you knew me well you might think I am really more like Ebenezer Scrooge before the ghosts visited him on Christmas Eve night. However, I learned early in my marriage that I cannot fight the Christmas machine that is my spouse. It is a lot easier to simply comply. Even if I openly fought it, I know I would lose.








Friday, November 09, 2012

My Employment

This coming Sunday, November 11th, I will be with Humana for 27 years. I was 34 years old when I started here and I am now 61 years old. Some of the people I work with now were not born when I began working here in 1985. It has been a long road. I have spent nearly half my life working here. I was fortunate to get a job here and I am grateful to still be employed here. I have endured, survived, adapted, and outlasted many changes of leadership and focus. Some things feel like they have not changed at all but in other ways everything is different. For example, I have spent all 27 years in the Service Center environment where we basically process claims. I have been in and out of the Medicare world and in a few short years I will on Medicare. When I started working here the internet and all things Microsoft did not exist. There was no Word, Excel, or Access. It was very much a paper environment. Most of the time I have been here has been spent in leadership positions. At one time or another I have managed many different areas and probably hundreds of people. Some of them have become very successful in other parts of the company and many of them have remained friends. I like what I do because it allows me to be a mentor and a teacher as well as a life coach. In addition, I consider much of what I do to be ministry. My son is the one who will soon be a priest but I have also been able to minister to many people in many ways as well. My goal and my plan is to work here until I retire, whenever that is. Humana has been very good to me but I also believe I have been very good for Humana.








Thursday, November 08, 2012

Take Care Of Yourself

Life is hard. I am reminded of this every time my alarm clock goes off in the morning, every day I have to work, all the times I have to do stuff I don't want to do, every time I don't feel good, every time I am disappointed, and on many other occasions in my life. It's a challenge to go through life and not be discouraged. Life often feels like a lot of work. This why it is so important to do whatever it takes to have some perspective on it all. You cannot allow yourself to be overwhelmed with the demands of life. You must find ways to deal with the demands of life by filling in all the empty spaces with people, things, and activities that give you some peace, joy, happiness, and contentment. Basically you have to take care of your own needs. Most of us spend a great deal of our lives taking care of the needs of others. However, it is not selfish to also take care of yourself.




Slow Down

I am tired this morning because I stayed up too late watching the election returns. After parking my car this morning I was walking down the stairs feeling like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. I was moving a little slow. Suddenly I could hear what sounded like a galloping horse. It was another person coming down the stairs behind me. I moved over so I wasn’t run over. I know I am a slow person but some people walk like they are trying to get out of a burning building. What’s the hurry? I believe it was Gandhi who said, “There’s more to life than increasing its speed”. I have said many times that in a world of pressure cookers, I am a crock pot. I prefer life in the slow lane. I don’t usually speed when I am driving. It’s not because I am an old man and drive like one. It’s because I am usually enjoying the drive itself. I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere because I am already somewhere. The journey is the destination. I know some things in life demand a sense of urgency and there are situations that require a speedy response but not everything. As Simon and Garfunkel once sang, “Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the moment last”.








Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Being Your Best Self

"When people are at their very best, that's who they really are."
-Alfred Horrigan

Yesterday morning I was not at my best. It usually takes me a few days to adjust to the time change. When I arrived at work I suddenly felt like I was running on fumes. It was a hectic morning and I was a little grumpy. I wasn’t demonstrating my usual patience and everything was getting on my nerves. People who are around me most days know I don’t normally act like this. Later in the day I realized that a big reason I felt so depleted was that I spent much of my weekend with my granddaughter. We went to a movie but that was the easy part. We also played on the floor and she rode on my shoulders like Queen Cleopatra riding her barge down the Nile river. Although these physical activities can be tough for a man in his sixties, a deeper truth is that one of the ways I am at my very best is when I am in my Paw Paw role. When I am tired, feeling overwhelmed, and it seems like I am being assaulted from every direction, I am not always at my best. When I feel this way the best thing for me to do is step back, breathe, and regain my center. I don’t like to feel this way. I don’t enjoy being grumpy. However, much to the amazement of some people who think I walk on water, I am a human being like the rest of you. I try to be the best version of who I am but some days it just isn’t happening. I assume everyone else is trying too so when they are not at their best I try to cut them some slack. I believe we are all doing the best we can but we’re not successful 100% of the time. This is why the Dalai Lama continuously preaching the message of kindness and compassion. We all need it sometimes and we should practice it all of the time.



Monday, November 05, 2012

Perspective

Life is a matter of perspective. There was a young Zen monk walking along a riverbank looking for a place to cross over to the other side. He finally saw an old monk on the other of the river so he yelled “How do I get to the other side of the river”? The old monk thought for a moment and then yelled back, “You are on the other side of the river”! Having a sense of perspective can help us to understand life a little better. We are all searching for happiness but happiness is often like the glasses that are sitting upon our nose. Happiness is not “out there”. Happiness is right in front of us. Pay attention and you will find it.

Tomorrow is election day. Two very different candidates with very different agendas. Each has very passionate followers who find some hope in two very different messages. Most of us believe one or the other is the correct message and the one that we believe in. Again…it’s a matter of perspective. Whatever message touches you, the main thing is to vote!

The “Boss” was in town on Saturday night. Yes, Bruce Springsteen played at the Yum Center this weekend. I’m told he played a 3 ½ hour show. I like the “Boss” but I must be honest and admit that I no longer have the stamina for such an event. At this point in my life my perspective found more happiness going the movies with my granddaughter this weekend to see “Frankenweenie” because we both love Tim Burton films.

Friday, November 02, 2012

He Who Looks Inside, Awakens...

Here's a thought from the Tao that I really like...

The mind that turns ever outward will have no end to craving. Only the mind turned inward will find a still point of peace.

Most, if not all, that drives us, whether is ambition, greed, desire for food or other comforts, materialism, or whatever, is nothing more than a desire and need to fill some type of emptiness within ourselves. We all suffer from this to some extent. Most of us are not alcoholics or drug addicts but we still have addictions. I think I have an addiction to buying CD's. I have approximately 2,500 CD's and you would think that would last me for the rest of my life. However, at this moment I am waiting for a few more to be delivered to my mailbox. Enjoying music is a legitimate pleasure but I know I am also obsessed with collecting CD's and it is a veiled attempt to fill some type of emptiness in my life. I have also read that our different personalities are also created by a deep need that aches to be fulfilled. It may be the need to be perfect, the need to be successful, or the need to be seen as "special". The Tao is telling us that everything we need is within us. Minds that are always turned outward, away from our center, will be on a ceaseless journey that will not satisfy our cravings or needs and we will never find the inner peace that most of us want. The famous psychologist, Carl Jung, said "He who looks outside, dreams. He who looks inside, awakens". Until you look inside and awaken to the greatness of who you are, you will never find an end to craving and you will never have inner peace.





Thursday, November 01, 2012

All Saints Day...The Morning After.

Most Christians, especially Catholics, celebrate All Saints Day today. It is a day to remember all the people believed to be in Heaven. All of the well-known saints have their own special day but today is mostly a remembrance of all the countless unknown people who quietly lived good lives and who have gone before us. Growing up as a good Catholic boy I also remember this day as a day off from school. In those days Catholic schools had their own schedule that differed from the public schools. Being the day after Halloween all the Catholic kids in my neighborhood would get up and survey the neighborhood to see whose pumpkins got smashed and what neighbors had toilet paper in their trees. My childhood was a “Leave It To Beaver” environment. Everyone in my neighborhood knew everyone else. All the children had a Mom and a Dad in their house. I didn’t know what divorce was. No one’s mother worked outside the home. I can only remember one woman who had a job and it was probably as a secretary in a “Mad Men” environment. This woman had one child and my mother took care of the child while she worked. Keep in mind that my mother had six of her own children. I was the oldest. On Halloween night there seemed to be hundreds of children going door to door. Some children played tricks but they were mostly harmless. When we all got home we would pour all our candy on the floor to see what we got. The days of my childhood seem difficult to imagine. Life today is so different. My children grew up in a different world than me and the world of my granddaughter is even more different. I guess it’s all relative. Chloe would probably be bored with my childhood. I am happy to have grown up at the time and in the environment that I did.








Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Self Knowledge

I have always loved the study of psychology and personality types.  In my early 30’s I took my first Myers-Briggs test and I learned about the Enneagram in my 40’s.  A few years ago I took the Strength Finders test.  In addition to the tests I have read many books on all the various personality types.  As a result of all of this I know myself very well.  These tests did a very good job of revealing to me who I am, what I am, how I think, and how I act.  One of the biggest benefits of such self-knowledge is the ability to recognize my own dysfunctional behavior.  More often than not I act in a mature way, appropriate for my age and temperament.  Occasionally, however, I can see my dysfunctional self looming on the horizon.  Knowing myself very well, I can usually head myself off at the pass and prevent or minimize my dysfunctional self from making an appearance.  All personality types have a healthy side to them as well as an unhealthy side.  All behavior is a manifestation of who a person is.  When a person is at their best, they are a manifestation of their redeemed or healthy self.  When a person is at their worst and their behavior is bad or foolish, it is almost always an indicator of deeper issues.  Our general behavior and how we deal with the demands of life is an strong indicator of one’s psychological health.  We are who we are and many forces and influences have shaped us into the people we are.  Most people learn from their experiences, grow from them, and over time develop into mature people and the best version of who they are.  Some people, however, never move forward.  They become trapped in their own dysfunctional behavior.  They may not even realize what they act the way they do.  Such people need to take a closer look at their behavior.  Some people need outside help to get a more objective view of themselves.  All of us have to take responsibility for our own emotional intelligence and behavior.  Occasionally that means facing a part of ourselves that we may not like.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Celebrate Another Day Of Living

As I pulled into my parking garage this morning the song “I Just Want To Celebrate Another Day Of Living” by the rock band Rare Earth was blasting on my radio. As soon as I got out of my car my mindfulness bell on my telephone went off reminding me to be in the moment. Within a minute I had two reminders to get out of my current funk. Yesterday one of my former teachers wrote me an email saying, “What’s this obsession with aging? I’m older than you are and I feel young”. All of this reminded me of something called “Acedia”. Acedia is a monastic term that describes a kind of boredom with one’s routines. It is an east rut for monks and everyone else to fall into. My life is very routine. I wake up at the same time every morning. I leave home at the same time every day and I arrive at work at the same time every day. While at work I do the same things every day and more often than not I do them in the same order. I take my breaks and go on my walks at the same time most days. When I leave work I have the same routines for going home and for things I do at home. Most days I am on auto-pilot and I don’t even realize it. One can quickly and regularly become bored with such regularity and not even realize it until it manifests itself as a funk. Now I am not expecting any significant changes in my life anytime soon. Most of my routines revolve around my responsibilities so I can’t discard most of them even though I can be on the lookout for signs of obsessive-compulsiveness. If I can’t change most of my routines, perhaps I can strive to change my ways of things so that I am in a better mindset to “celebrate another day of living”. Who wants to be in the moment if you’re bored with the moment? I will look for ways big and small to celebrate living. I encourage you to do the same.






Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

This morning my thoughts are with the millions of people in the path of Hurricane Sandy. Some of them are my friends and family. My sister evacuated her New York City apartment yesterday. I don’t know exactly where she is at the moment but I am assuming she went to her daughter’s house in Connecticut. I know the idea of global warming is controversial with many people. I believe in science so I believe we are experiencing global warming and that Hurricane Sandy is a result. This is not to say that it has never happened before. I believe what our modern day scientists are saying is that it is happening now at an accelerated pace. One thing I do know and believe is that our weather is changing in dramatic ways. The droughts, the wildfires, the excessive heat, the killer winters, and the so called super storms were somewhat rare in my youth. I believe all of these things are the result of the increasing warmth of our planet and the breakdown of the ozone layer around the earth. These are just my beliefs. I know some of you believe the opposite and this whole discussion has become a political issue. However, as the Buddha says, “Believe what you experience”. Whether such storms as Hurricane Sandy are normal weather or the result of global warming is irrelevant at this point. It is here and it will significantly affect the lives of millions of people today. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers and be grateful you are where you are today.








Friday, October 26, 2012

My Life

There is a creeping malaise in my life that looks like boredom. The weekend is here. On the way to work this morning I asked my wife what we were doing this weekend. She replied, “I want to go to Denny’s for dinner because I’m in the mood for a club sandwich. Tomorrow I want to drive to the J.C. Penney’s Outlet to look at blankets”. I thought to myself, “Really??? This is my weekend? Has my life come to this"?  This makes going to the Mall seem like a drunken orgy. My entire life seems to be slowing down. My life as a rock and roll road warrior has been in decline for years. Most of my rocking is now down in my Lazy Boy chair. I have books everywhere I sit but it takes me forever to read them. I can fall asleep listening to AC/DC. Outside of the work day the most exciting things I do are go to the Kroger pharmacy for my monthly meds, load the dishwasher, and do the laundry. Occasionally when I am feeling wild and crazy I will go outside and feed the squirrels. There was a time I was involved in more activities outside of work and home. I let all of those go. I just ran out of energy and desire. Every Thursday morning one of my co-workers asks, “Did you make it to your Buddhist meditation last night”? Sadly, most of the time I must reply, “No, I didn’t make it”. I was probably doing some horizontal meditation on my couch. I must find an antidote for this malaise. If this is all part of the aging process I don’t want to give in to it. My life has to be more than a club sandwich at Denny’s or a trip to the J.C. Penney’s Outlet to look at blankets. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What's The Deal With Sleep?

I was very happy when my alarm went off this morning and it was finally time to get out of bed. The reason being that I had been awake since 4:00 AM. During this time my brain decided to go into overdrive and I composed about ten daily thoughts in my mind. Unfortunately I cannot remember any of them at this time. Some of them were probably very good. Hopefully, they will come back to me at some point. What’s the deal with sleep? Everyone I know complains about sleep. They either get too little, the quality of what they get is poor, they wake up at all hours of the night, or they toss and turn for hours. Why can’t we sleep? We are all exhausted? Are we so over stimulated, agitated, and stressed out that our biological time clocks are completely out of whack? Why can I sleep like a baby on Saturday afternoons but can never sleep well in my bed? I used to think it was because I am getting older but I hear young people making the same complains. I am often envious of Rip Van Winkle. I am no longer sure what it really feels like to be totally rested and refreshed. I live in a daze but no one notices because everyone else is in a daze too. At this very moment my eyes want to snap shut. In my mind I am singing the song by Chicago called “Wake Up, Sunshine”. I guess the good news is that I can go home in eight hours and take a nap.








Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Road Trip

Back through the mists of time in the late 60’s, when I was in high school, my friends Tom, Gene, John, and I drove all the way to Cincinnati in the middle of the night just to get some White Castles. It didn’t matter that we could get White Castles in Louisville. We were just four guys enjoying a road trip that would make all of our parents very unhappy. If there had been one more guy in our group we could have started our own hamburger chain. In our carefree youth, drunk with our own freedom, it didn’t matter to us that we driving 200 miles just for hamburgers. Even though we didn’t realize it at the time we were experiencing the journey as the destination. I can’t remember if I-71 was even built yet. We may have gone on U.S. 42. It doesn’t matter. We were young and all of life was a grand adventure. I’m sure we laughed a lot along the way and that the radio was blasting the songs of the day. No matter how hard I try I cannot recapture the mood of those days. I am too weighed down with the concerns of my current existence. Life hasn’t seemed carefree in many years. I am not trying to recapture my lost youth. However, I do miss the zest for living that I once had and that I struggle to have now. Those days were certainly simpler times though not without their own challenges. We tend to wear rose colored glasses whenever we look backwards. It is sad, however, that activities of our youth seemed like adventures while most activities of our older selves seem like chores. As we age and our energy levels dissipate, how can we live with enthusiasm? How do we re-capture the sense of wonder and awe that we had in youth when in our old age it seems a struggle just to get out of bed? Certainly my granddaughter shakes me out of my doldrums whenever she’s around but she can’t babysit me all the time. The best I can do on my own is try to be awake and present to the moment, hoping I can see the wonder of it all with my tired eyes. Why were all of us in such a hurry to grow up?








Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Being Grounded

Over the weekend I received an email from a friend asking me to write something about what it means to be “grounded”. Here’s what I got when I Googled the question “What does it mean to be grounded”?

Being grounded means being fully conscious and fully present in the NOW moment.....being very, very aware of what is happening to us in the present. When we are conscious and aware of our SELF and grounded in the NOW we are able to ground the love and light from our higher self. This means that no matter what is going on, we stay balanced, centered and aligned with our soul and higher self and we are able to control our reactive, knee jerk, defensive behavioral patterns of our ego and shadow consciousness. Being grounded is a very, very difficult task because we have an ego centered mind that likes to take us into the future of “What If’s” and into the past of should of, could of, would of....... regrets, blame and victim consciousness. When our consciousness is fully in the present moment we are very, very aware of everything happening within and around our being NOW, even the core sensations in the body.

This is a very good explanation but let me add a few of my own thoughts to it. In addition to what is written above, I feel grounded when my mind, body, and spirit are in balance and harmony with one another. My mind is my biggest challenge because I often suffer what the Buddhists call “monkey mind”. Monkey mind is when you have a thousand conversations going on in your head and the chatter is similar to the noise generated by a tree full of monkeys. My aging body is also a challenge because it has a lot of mileage on it and it is not always cooperative. Finally, my spirit is restless at this time of my life. One of the challenges of aging is that ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and childhood faith may not work for you like they once did. Of course, every age has its own challenges. When I can calm my mind, when my body is cooperative, and when my restlessness finds some comfort in the eternal NOW, I feel grounded. I think being grounded also means knowing who you are, what you value in terms of beliefs and morality, and feeling strong in your convictions. In some ways being grounded means having integrity and a moral compass. People of integrity are always grounded people. Ungrounded people go whatever way the wind blows and they have few convictions.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Visiting My Son

Although it was an overcast day, with occasional light rain, I had a wonderful day on Saturday driving through Indiana and visiting with my son at the seminary. The fall colors were at their peak. Most of the drive was through rural areas so I was continuously in awe of the trees and all the multi-colored leaves. I like road trips in general but I especially like them at this time of year. When I arrived at St. Meinrad all was quiet and my son was waiting for my wife and I in the retreat house. He gave us a tour of some of the buildings where renovation had recently been completed and then we visited his new room. As a Deacon and a 4th year student he is at the top of the pile. As a result he has one of the most coveted rooms. It was very nice, very comfortable, and had a panoramic view of the surrounded countryside. If I get such a room when he puts me in a nursing home I will be very content. When lunch time arrived we drove to a restaurant in Tell City where we had a very nice lunch. Sometimes it is difficult for a father to tell a son how he feels. I am proud of my son and I made it a point to tell him this very directly on Saturday. It’s a wonderful thing to see your children grow up to become decent human beings. When one of my pregnant nieces sent the family an email saying she was looking forward to the journey of becoming a parent, I wrote her back and said “it’s a long journey”. Parenthood is a journey that really never ends as long as you are alive. Even if my son becomes an Archbishop I will still be the higher authority because I am Dad. We won’t even get into the authority of his mother.  Even Jesus did what his mother said.








Friday, October 19, 2012

Journeys

The older my wife and I get the longer it takes us to get ready for work. We have been waking up together for 38 years. When the alarm clock goes off it’s like a Zombie wake up call. We each get out of bed and head towards our respective bathrooms. I hear a lot of commotion from her bathroom. If you filmed me going from my bed to my bathroom it would look like the evolution of man. I start out on all fours and by the time I get to my bathroom I am standing upright. By the time I get to the office I am usually OK but it’s a journey of a thousand miles from my bed to my cubicle.

Yesterday I was sharing with a co-worker about a time my wife and I went to see our youngest son’s rock band at a local music venue. When we arrived it was obvious to the guy at the door that we weren’t part of the usual crowd so he let us in for free. When we got inside everyone else looked like Marilyn Manson. My son was on stage playing bass guitar. I never saw him that animated before. Now that tattooed rocker is the man in black. He is an ordained Deacon. In May he will graduate from St. Meinrad School of Theology with a Master’s Degree and a few weeks later he will be ordained a Catholic priest. All of this has also been a journey of a thousand miles. Tomorrow my wife and I, assuming we can get ourselves together, will go on a journey of about 75 miles to visit him at the seminary and go out for lunch. It is forecasted to be a beautiful day so I look forward to it all.



Thursday, October 18, 2012

Gentle Breezes

I was thinking about the prophet Elijah during my morning meditation. He is one of my favorite Old Testament characters. You may be familiar with him from the Book of Kings. I’m not a scripture scholar but I think I got that right. Why was I thinking about him this morning? According to my wife there was quite a lot of thunder and lightning in the middle of the night as storms passed through our area. They woke her up and kept her awake. Apparently I slept through them like a baby as I wandered through the land of dreams. A couple of hours later, however, I felt the call of nature so I got out of bed to go to the bathroom. All was quiet and still. My bathroom window was open and I could hear the gentle sound of my wonderful wind chimes. They have a deep tone that sounds like temple bells. A light breeze caused them to make gentle sounds. What’s the point of this? In the story of Elijah, after he was run out of town by the false prophets of Baal, he was hiding on a mountain. There were storms with lightning and thunder and there were earthquakes. In all of that God was not present. Finally, there was a gentle breeze, much like the ones that blew through my wind chimes last night, and Elijah hid his face for God was present in the breeze. Much of our lives can seem like storms and earthquakes. We live in a noisy world. Our minds are over stimulated. It’s difficult for God to get through to us in all of these distractions. The experience of God is most likely to happen in the gentle breezes of life. If we are lost in the noise, we probably won’t notice the breeze. Wind chimes can remind us of God’s presence in our lives. Don’t get lost in the storms of life. Seek out the quiet moments and listen with the ear of your heart.








Being In Touch With Nature

When I left work yesterday I had one goal. The goal was to go to Best Buys and buy my granddaughter a copy of “Madagascar III”. There are priorities in life. Chloe loves it and I’ve seen all three of them myself. Earlier in the day I went outside for a walk. I try to walk whenever I can take a break. Depending on the weather I may walk outside. At this moment in time autumn is in all its glory. The colors are magnificent, the mornings are cool, and the days are pleasant. I love it and I find it invigorating. Unlike summer, which sucks the life right out of me, this time of year makes me feel more alive. I look forward to Saturday when I will drive through the Indiana National Forest on my way to see my son at the seminary. His school is connected to a monastery located in a rural area. It’s a beautiful place. For now I must content myself with the beauty of the trees in the green space near my office, the trees along my commute, and the trees in my neighborhood. In a world where too many of us work in offices that are located in buildings where windows cannot be opened, we need to get outdoors whenever we can to feel the wind and the sun upon our faces. When the weather is beautiful like it is now I envy those members of my team that work at home and have some control over their connection to nature. As I sit here typing these thoughts I wish I felt a breeze generated by the wind and not from the small oscillating fan sitting on my desk. It’s hot in the office today and the fan seems to do nothing but circulate warm air. I’m having a hot flash so I hope I finish these thoughts before I go face down on my keyboard. If you are reading these thoughts I guess I made it.








Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Follow Your Bliss

Last night I had dinner with a friend who is going to help me get my first book published. I have run out of excuses for not doing this and lately I have been receiving a great deal of encouragement. The time has arrived. In many ways the book is already written. I have well over 1000 “daily thoughts” in my archives. Making the decision to publish is the first step in a long journey. The challenge now is to decide how the book will look, what will be in the book, and how will it all be organized. I have a title in mind and there is no doubt the book will be dedicated to my granddaughter. She was my original inspiration. Much of my adult life I have kept private, handwritten journals. It wasn’t until Chloe was born in 2004, when I was 53 years old, that I sent out for public consumption the first of what became my daily thoughts. That first email contains my thoughts on the experience my wife and I had when we kept a three week old Chloe overnight for the first time. The rest, as they say, is history. The friend who is helping me is a co-worker that I met quite serendipitously. I was part of a company focus group and he was one of the facilitators. I was pontificating about something and I could see him nodding in agreement from the corner of my eye. We introduced ourselves after the meeting and immediately hit it off. I believe people come into your life for a reason. I began sharing my daily thoughts with this new friend and he quickly became one of my biggest fans and supporters. I look forward to working with him on my book. I also believe that all of us find ourselves and our gift soon or later. For me , it was later. I am a late bloomer and a slow starter. The best of me is just now starting to emerge. We are all on different schedules. Your day will come also. Follow your bliss!








Monday, October 15, 2012

From Catching Watermelons To Picking Pumpkins


Over the weekend I transitioned from thoughts of catching watermelons to picking out pumpkins with Chloe. This past Saturday was our annual family trip to Huber’s where we rode the farm wagon out to the pumpkin fields and we also contributed lots of money to the Huber Children’s College Fund. It was a good day. My family all met up for breakfast and then we made the trek to Indiana. At first I was disappointed because the weather report forecasted a summer like day instead of a fall day. Fortunately, due to overcast skies, the morning was not hot and wandering around the fields was pleasant. Yesterday my wife and Chloe attended my niece’s baby shower so I had an afternoon of unsupervised freedom. I dropped them off at my niece’s new home and I went to Barnes & Nobles for a pumpkin spice latte and some blissful time looking at CD’s and book’s. When I finally got home I had one of those wonderful Sunday afternoon naps where I slept on my couch as a nice breeze flowed in from an open window. Now I am back in the office to earn my daily bread so I can prepare for next weekend when my wife and I will drive to St. Meinrad’s where my son attends the seminary. Over the weekend we received the news that he will be ordained a priest on May 25th. I definitely need to earn my daily bread before that day arrives.






Friday, October 12, 2012

Boredom

“I’m bored”! How many times have you heard someone say this or how many times have you felt this way? I read an article recently about boredom. It basically said there was no excuse for being bored. It also said that if you feel bored, it’s not the situation, it’s your attitude towards whatever is perceived as boring. When I feel bored I sometimes ask myself why I feel bored. My experience is that I often feel bored when I must do something that is uninteresting or unchallenging to me. I also feel bored when I feel trapped in a situation or a place I don’t want to be. I think part of the problem with boredom is the fact that all of us live in a complex world that often over stimulates our minds. We are so bombarded with words, information, and images that when we have moments of non-stimulation we feel bored. When I lived in a monastery the biggest challenge for me was dealing with boredom. In the monastery there were not many distractions. Outside the monastery is a stone carving that says “God Alone”. We had our monastic schedule that carried us through the day but there was very little in terms of entertainment or diversion away from the purpose of being in a monastery. There was no television or radio, no recreation room, and no going to town for beer and pizza. The challenge of monastic life, and the challenge for all of us when feeling bored, is the challenge of facing yourself. It is often in these moments of boredom that we have to deal with our own nothingness. Let’s be honest. Many of us feel an emptiness within us that we try to fill with activity and all manner of escapism. We don’t want to face our own emptiness or brokenness. We hate to feel bored because we hate to face our own reality. However, we can’t avoid it forever. Sooner or later we must face our boredom and look within. We must deal with our emptiness and restlessness. We must realize that it is an emptiness and restlessness that activities and things can never fill. Monks and others of a spiritual nature find some comfort in the words of St. Augustine, a 5th century bishop and theologian who said “We will have no rest, O Lord, until we rest in you”. Others may find comfort in different spiritual teachings or ways of thinking. Basically, when we deal with our own emptiness and brokenness, we can eventually experience an inner fulfillment that has no room for boredom. We see the fullness of life all around us.






Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Art Of Catching Watermelons

Once when I was in high school, after a night of drinking with my friends, I went to my job at a small mom and pop grocery store. As soon as I got to work, slightly hung over, the boss tells me I need to go to the front of the store because a local farmer was delivering a truck load of watermelons. My job was to catch the watermelons when the farmer threw them to me and stack them up in front of the store.  I’m not sure what a typical watermelon weighs but let me tell you this. This job about did me in before the truck was unloaded. Sometimes it can feel like life is throwing you watermelons and they are coming at you very quickly. My first piece of advice is avoid having to catch watermelons when you are hung over. Assuming you are not a physical wreck like I currently am, it’s a lot easier to catch watermelons when you are sober and alert. This story is all a lead in to today’s topic which is balance. The secret to catching watermelons, sober or hung over, is balance. If your feet aren’t balanced and a twenty pound watermelon comes flying your way, you are going to get knocked over and the watermelon won’t end up too well either. When one is balanced you can take on the characteristics of a deeply rooted oak tree. The winds of life can blow and no matter what they bring, you remain standing. Another word often associated with balance is centeredness. Centeredness is basically knowing who you are, knowing what you believe, and practicing your values and beliefs. Centeredness and balance, working in harmony, will get you through just about anything in life, even catching flying watermelons.






Wednesday, October 10, 2012

People Skills

I have a lot of conversations with co-workers and others about leadership and people skills. Recently I read an article that said the most successful people are those with the best people skills. The article said that people skills ultimately trump every other skill in the long room. Certainly other skills are needed to be successful but I agree with this article. I have survived in my work environment for nearly 27 years because of my people skills. People skills are difficult to develop if you don’t naturally have them. I have always been a people person despite the fact that people tend to wear me out. I am an “NF” temperament on the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator. In the world of work and people “NF” types are described as the oil that keeps all the machinery running smoothly. I like that analogy. While having those skills I also realize that my introverted nature is why I also find people so exhausting. Sometimes there is irony in our individual personality traits. Beyond the psychological aspects, what are people skills and what does it mean to be a people person. I think the foundation of people skills is caring about people. I’m no Mother Teresa but I do care about people. I also have certain values in my life, regardless of where I am, that I try to practice. My values are love, kindness, compassion, tolerance, patience, fairness, and acceptance. I strive to apply these to every human being that I encounter in my life. It may be a tired waitress in a restaurant, an overwhelmed clerk at the grocery store, a stranger on the street, or a co-worker in my office. I like to believe that the person I am at work is the person I am everywhere else in my life. It’s important that the values I listed above be authentic. You can’t fake caring or people skills.




Tuesday, October 09, 2012

One Time In France

I had frost on my car this morning. Brrr! Driving to work I was reminded of another cold morning. In 2005 I had the opportunity to go to France. I visited a small town called Clairvaux. This city is famous because of a famous 12th century monk and theologian named Bernard of Clairvaux. I was there for a religious conference of monks, nuns, and lay people. Although it was early June the mornings were very cool. As I have mentioned before, monks get up in the middle of the night to prayer what are called Vigils. It was no different on this trip. I was staying in a small village a few miles away that was surrounded by vineyards. Every day that I was in France I drank the fruit of the vine.  However, I digress.  My companions and I got up, drove to Clairvaux, and joined others for Vigils. The chapel was very old and had no heat. I sat there shivering while a monk sang the prayers in French. I love the sound of the French language. After the prayers were over we went to a small room under the chapel. Inside the room was a stone fireplace with a blazing fire. Breakfast was waiting for us. Sitting next to the fire the hot coffee and bread seemed like a great feast. I was totally in the moment. Everything about the experience came together to create a perfect moment. I was warmed by the fire, the coffee and bread satisfied my thirst and hunger, and my mind and heart were blown away because I was doing all of this in France. As I sit here typing these notes I am back in that moment. Let me leave you with a Zen koan. Is all bread in France considered French bread?








Monday, October 08, 2012

The Autumn Of Life

This past weekend was a picture perfect autumn weekend. This is my favorite time of the year and a time that matches where I am in my life.  At my age I believe I am in the autumn of my life. This does not bother me because I believe one needs to be realistic about their mortality. Autumn is a paradox in many ways. It is a time of dying but it is also a time of great beauty. At age 61 I know I have more years behind me than I do in front of me. At the same time there is much that is beautiful about this time of my life. Although my body may be ahead of the curve in terms of decline, my mind, heart, and spirit are peaking. I have no desire to be young again and to relive the struggles of growing up, raising children, and worrying all the time about making ends meet. I may be getting older but I am very comfortable in many ways. One of the obvious joys of being my age and being who I am is spending time with my granddaughter. Much of the weekend I was her playmate. Here’s some of what we did this weekend.

We had breakfast at Hardee’s on Saturday morning. A table full of old men hit on my wife. They heard her say she was cold so they offered to keep her warm. When she sat at my table she looked at me and said “I’ve still got it, Michael”.

We checked into the Hotel Transylvania at a local movie theater.

We drove around some of the neighborhoods near the park to look at Halloween decorations.

We had dinner at a local seafood restaurant on the river.  This was preceded by swinging in the playground while watching the boats go by.

We watched “A Madea Christmas”. Yes, I know it’s way too early for a Christmas movie but Tyler Perry dressed like a woman is very funny.

Sunday morning we scrambled eggs and made a fort in my room.

Sunday afternoon was spent taking Chloe home, dismantling the fort in my room, and doing a week’s worth of laundry.







Thursday, October 04, 2012

Remembering Saint Francis

Today, October 4th, is the day that the Catholic Church honors the memory of St. Francis of Assisi. He is my favorite Christian holy man. He lived in the 12th century and was the founder of a religious community that became known as the Franciscans. They still exist in today’s world. My first exploration as a young Catholic boy into the religious life was with the Franciscans. I left my parent’s home in 1965 as a 14 year old boy and I went to Cincinnati to attend a seminary. I had a tough time for a lot of reasons and I left after a year. I finished high school in Louisville. It was the sixties and I soon morphed from a seminarian into a hippie. Around 1970, at the height of my original hippie experience, I felt like God was chasing me. Unable to get away I re-joined the Franciscans and headed to a Franciscan community outside of Detroit, Michigan. I was surprised to discover that some of the Franciscans were basically hippies in brown robes. This time around I stayed with the Franciscans for two years before following another voice that led me to the more austere Trappist monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani. I stayed there for about a year before I began the life I have now. It was during my second sojourn with the Franciscans that I first met my good friend, Fr. Dennis. At one time we lived in the same Franciscan community. That was over 40 years ago. Now we are much older men. He is like a big brother while also being a spiritual mentor for me. I have also recently re-connected with a nun who was my 8th grade teacher. She is one of the people who wrote me a letter of recommendation when I first attended the seminary. When I told her about my son, who will be ordained a priest in the spring of 2013, she remarked that many times when a man like me leaves the seminary or religious life, the vocation manifests itself in a child. I thought that was an interesting thought about my experience then and my son’s experience now. Tomorrow I am taking the day off to spend some time with my friend, Fr. Dennis. I’m sure we will spend some time reminiscing about our shared past as well as our current lives. Life has been quite an adventure for me.




Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Nothing Is Better Than A Warm Fire

“In old age nothing is better than a warm fire”
-Native American saying

Today is the day when the local Buddhist community has its weekly meditation session. Once I discovered these sessions I attended for several weeks. Then it got dark and I haven’t been since. I will admit that I am a homebody. When I leave the office I can’t get home fast enough. Once I am there it is very difficult for me to go back out, especially when it is dark or it’s a cold winter night. I understand the Native American quote at the beginning of these thoughts. The warm fire of home is very enticing. Along with my homebody tendencies I am also a hermit type. I am fortunate to have my own “man cave” where my severely introverted personality can retreat and re-charge. I believe my introversion is the result of growing up in a large family and a small house. As a child and teenager the only way I could be alone was to be within myself. Admittedly, I would like to continue attending the Buddhist meditations. They support my desire for Buddhahood, enlightenment, and contemplative union with a deeper reality than everyday life appears to be on the surface. Tonight, after I get home, I will attempt to not sit down in my favorite chair. I will try to keep moving and, hopefully, some of that movement will be out my front door, into my car, and down the road to the Buddhist temple. As they say, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. The Buddhist temple is really only a few miles from my home but it seems a thousand miles from my couch,



Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Work Enviroment

An increased sense of personal well-being at work, in real and practical ways, contributes to a positive and enjoyable work environment. A pleasant environment filled with happy associates, coupled with feelings of team accomplishment and personal fulfillment, can contribute as much as anything to increased productivity, greater efficiency, and decreased absenteeism. All of these things working together will affect the bottom line by contributing in positive ways to overall cost savings. It is not enough to only look at process improvements and best practices. The impact of environment cannot be underestimated. I believe creating such an environment begins with the leaders. How do you do it? It begins with honesty, truth, caring, and transparency. This is stuff you can’t fake. If you try to do so your associates will see right through it. We’ve got to do it and be real about it. In order to be real we must be authentic. Lance Secretan in his book One…The Art and Practice of Conscious Leadership actually suggests that leaders should love their people. It probably would be helpful if they also loved one another. In addition, it’s not enough for the leaders to care about their people. The “people” need to care about their leaders. We can’t treat one another like we are enemies. The people who do the work and the people who manage the work are in a partnership. It should not be an adversarial relationship. This is where I would add trust to the mix. I know that some of you probably think any talk about love and feelings is inappropriate in the workplace. Some think we are here to get a job done, not love one another. I’m not suggesting a phony and shallow pretending to care about one another. I am suggesting the real deal. Work is part of life and the caring that many of you show for family, friends, and causes dear to your heart should be expanded to include the work place. What would the workplace be like if most people actually liked, or even loved, coming to work? What would the workplace look like if we tried to outdo one another in kindness? What would the workplace look like if there was more cooperation and less competition? What would it be like to ride the elevators and hear more laughter and less complaining? What I am suggesting, and what Lance Secretan writes about, is a oneness and unity that will heal the separateness that too often exists.

“You may say that I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one”.
-John Lennon in the song Imagine.







Monday, October 01, 2012

Encounters With God

I woke up about 3:00 AM this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. I think I finally dozed off about 15 minutes before the alarm clock went off at 6:00 AM. Back in my monastery days we used to get up at 3:00 AM intentionally and then I also did it on a regular basis when my children were babies. However, it is not something I choose to do now. When it happens I usually lay in bed and think. Often I think about all the people in my life and especially about those who are going through any difficulty. More often than not I will say a prayer for them. Sometimes I think God wakes me up in the middle of the night just to get my attention. In the busyness of daytime that doesn’t always happen despite my efforts to be awake and aware of the spiritual vibes going on around me. In the monastery these pre-dawn hours are the best time of day. When I go on a retreat at the monastery I revert to my novice monk days and I live the monastic schedule. Maybe when I am a really old man, and my working days are behind me, I will once again get up in the night when God wakes me up. Now I too often just look at the clock and mentally calculate how much sleep I am missing. Today I will most likely be in a daze as soon as my morning caffeine begins to wear off. This evening when my work day is over I will certainly need a nap. Hopefully the nap will not only catch me up with the sleep I lost last night, it will prepare me for another possible encounter with God in the middle of tonight.






Friday, September 28, 2012

Helping Strangers

Earlier this week, as I was leaving a restaurant, a stranger approached me asking for some financial assistance. He was not a homeless person. He said he was from out of town and had to use all of his money for an unexpected car repair. I don’t know if that was the truth or not. I don’t know if he was truly in need or just a very good actor. Generally, I don’t even care. My attitude towards most homeless people or others who approach me is that I will help them in good faith if I am able to do so. If they are taking advantage of me, then they have to live with it. If I have cash on me I usually respond favorably to such requests. Like many people, however, I use my debit card almost exclusively. As a result I rarely have any cash. I felt badly but I explained to the man that I didn’t have any cash. He looked forlorn and I was sorry I couldn’t help him, especially since I had just filled my belly at a nice restaurant. Later in the evening, when I finally got home, I realized that I actually had a rare five dollar bill in my wallet that I had completely forgotten about. If I had been aware of it earlier in the day I would have given it to the stranger who asked my help. I’ve taken ministry workshops and social work type of classes that warn against giving money to the homeless and panhandlers. I understand that many of them are alcoholics and some even have mental illnesses. Most that I have encountered were nice and not as aggressive as some are reported to be. I am a blessed man so I tend to be a soft touch to those in need. I hope the man I was not able to help found what he needed to get home. I should probably take that five dollar bill that I have an hide it in my wallet so that I will have it the next time someone needs some assistance. Otherwise I will just spend it on a latte that I don’t really need.